Monk in Cave at Night

A stone is a story. Here, we have a monk in his cave at night. We can see the moon in the darkened sky above him. His head is surrounded by a halo because of his asceticism, his wish to refrain the impulses of the ego and to bow down before God. And yet there are other figures in this remarkable drawing. There is a bust to the right of the monk. His left shoulder forms the mouth of a face, and there is another face below him. In the door of the cave is a large hound, a little whitish. It seems to occupy a lot of the space. It is difficult to discern whether the hound, which exceeds the monk in size, is evil or friendly, but see how the word “evil” is in the first four letters of “friend” (phonetic pairs f-v and l-r). To the left is a white staircase and what could be a potted plant. The complexity of this drawing is unusual.

 

Meanwhile, in language, we think of opposites as being unconnected, and yet we are told in the Gospel that we must lose our life in order to find it, or that the first will be last and the last, first. So there is an obvious paradox in language. This can be found in the connection between “fast” and “feast”. To fast, to deprive our body of the luxury of food, even if only for a short period, is to reap benefits in other ways, as the monk would no doubt be able to teach us. We might find a similar connection in the words “starve” and “harvest” (addition of h). Of course, we need food for nourishment and healing. Both “feast” and “starve” are connected with “breast”, a source of nourishment for babies. And if we take away the s, we will be able to extract the words “feed” and “bread” (change of vowels; phonetic pair d-t). St Maximus the Confessor is clear when he says that to overcome the passions – excess – we need love and self-mastery. So perhaps “fast” is to “feast” and “starve” to reap the benefits of holding back.

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